By making small sacrifices, it is earning goodwill across the globe even as effectiveness of this drug is a matter of investigation
Shankar Kumar | April 18, 2020 | New Delhi
Whatever may be the reason behind US president Donald Trump’s irksome statement against India and then within 24 hours correcting it by making placatory remarks for prime minister Narendra Modi, India has suddenly gained prominence across the world as the key manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine which is believed to be the miracle drug in the fight against the deadly coronavirus. Besides the US, nearly 40 countries from Latin American region to Europe to Eurasia to Africa and South Asia have placed orders for its immediate supply. But more interesting is this medicine’s demand coming from Pakistan even as its relations with India are at an all-time low with the Imran Khan-led government showing tepid response to India’s initiative to have a united fight against the fatal contagious virus in the SAARC region.
Hydroxychloroquine as diplomatic influencer
High in demand across the coronavirus-affected countries of the world, hydroxychloroquine will be supplied only through government-to-government mode; it will not be exported to any private company as it is still under the banned category of export. That means any country seeking import of hydroxychloroquine will have to route its demand through the ministry of external affairs.
Admittedly, the anti-malaria drug has helped India position itself among the few frontline states, which will arguably play important geo-political and strategic roles in days after the pandemic is controlled in the world. Already some institutions like WHO have begun to stare at fund cuts, while demands for UN reforms have gained ground. Trump has instructed his administration to halt funding to the WHO after it has been blamed for its alleged role in the promotion of China’s disinformation about the virus.
When the world was keen to know whether the virus transmits from human to human, the WHO in its January 14 tweet said there was no human-to-human transmission of the virus. This riled majority international community when Covid-19, contrary to the WHO understanding, showed its contagious character. At the virtual G-20 meet on March 26, Modi is said to have called for strengthening of organisations like WHO. This was seen as India’s oblique reference to restructuring of the world body. In the same meet, India led by Modi had reportedly stressed for the need to look at globalization and multilateralism not just through the prism of economic and multilateralism but also through humanitarian angle. And this aspect was reiterated by the Indian prime minister when he lifted ban on the export of hydroxychloroquine to foreign countries.
More than 30 countries have asked India for the supply of the drug. Of these countries, those which had ordered for it in the last week of March have already started receiving consignments. Foreign watchers say what vastly talented and experienced Indian diplomats couldn’t do for their country in terms of rise in its prestige, a small pill of hydroxychloroquine has done in quick span of a week. With the exception to China, all members of UN Security Council, which are desperate to save their country from the invisible predator, have sought India’s help in procuring the medicine. To the surprise of international watchers, even Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey—the three countries which lost no opportunity in launching smear campaign against India on the Kashmir issue—have expressed their desire to purchase the medicine from India even though its efficacy in healing Covid-19 patients is a matter of investigation.
Dr Mahesh Sharma, the former union minister who runs a chain of hospitals, doesn’t agree that hydroxychloroquine could be an advisable drug for coronavirus patients. “We have bought 10,000 tablets of hydroxychloroquine, but we don’t give them to patients, rather we give them to doctors who are in the frontline of fight against the virus,” he said.
Balram Bhargava, director-general of Indian Council of Medical Research, one of the country’s ace medical research institutes, sounded the same refrain in the use of anti-malaria drug to treat Covid-19 patients. “Hydroxychloroquine is recommended only for the healthcare worker who is treating a coronavirus patient. Also, it is recommended only for persons staying with and caring for household patient who has been tested positive. They can take that only for prophylaxis—only for prevention,” he said. This rider, however, doesn’t stop many countries from falling upon each other while buying the medicine from India. As a major producer of hydroxychloroquine, India too doesn’t want to disappoint any country in availing the medicine. By making small sacrifices, it is, in fact, earning goodwill across the continents of the world. In contrast, China has lost the international empathy because of its failure to tell the world about Covid-19.
Role of social media influencers, US in making hydroxychloroquine a ‘miracle drug’
But before India could play any dice on diplomatic chessboard of the world, it must be thankful to some social media influencers, the US’s leading Fox News television channel and president Trump for making hydroxychloroquine a miracle drug.
In the face of scepticism raised by some medical scientists, including Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease doctor, about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment for Covid-19, the US president termed the drug as a “game changer” in the fight against the disease. At India’s own home pitch, however, the Indian Council of Medical Research, one of the oldest medical research bodies in the world, doesn’t like to show the same enthusiasm in its backing of hydroxychloroquine as a must drug in the prevention of coronavirus. Rather, it says it wouldn’t recommend the medicine for Covid-19 patients unless satisfactory results are seen during tests.
But common people in France are in no mood to tweak their belief about the medicine, especially after Didier Raoult, a French physician and microbiologist claimed that combo of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibiotic, has resulted in a very low death rate among Covid-19 patients. As per a survey conducted by French polling institute IFOP (Institute Francais D’Opinion Publique) on April 6, 59 percent of the total French population believes hydroxychloroquine to be effective against Covid-19. Even those ‘Yellow Vest’ movement members who were against French president Emmanuel Macron’s economic policy in 2018 and 2019, have supported the anti-malaria drug’s use as a preventive measure against the epidemic, which has so far led to the death of over one lakh people across the world. Before Fox News channel and Trump promoted the drug, Silicon Valley’s data scientists and health experts had picked up the buzz around hydroxychloroquine from France. Result is that today, in the absence of anti-coronavirus vaccine, every country is ready to fill treatment gap with India supplied hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol medicines.
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